When it comes to how Americans have stepped up to help colleagues, friends, neighbors, and even strangers during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no shortage of feel-good stories. That is especially true in the hospitality industry.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), which represents all segments of the U.S. lodging industry, has been at the forefront of response efforts.
As the COVID-19 crisis grew in many cities, many essential healthcare workers traveling to help were seeing a shortage of hotel rooms—in response, AHLA launched Hospitality for Hope.
The initiative involved creating a database of properties (in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) so that local, state, and federal government officials could find hotels near hospitals and healthcare facilities willing to house healthcare workers. This facilitation between individual hotels and government officials was especially necessary as surges appeared in different parts of the country, often simultaneously, which created a strain on available housing for medical professionals that were traveling to help.
More than 17,000 hotels across the country participated in Hospitality for Hope. Since the initiative was launched, more than 2.3 million hotel room nights have been made available on a complimentary or discounted basis (depending on agreements with local governments).
A Safe Place to Stay
“As an industry of people taking care of people, the hotel industry is uniquely positioned to support and help strengthen our communities and first responders who are on the frontlines of dealing with this ongoing public health crisis,” said Chip Rogers, AHLA’s president and CEO. “Hotels have always been an active member of our local communities, and this time is no different.”
When it first launched, the number of hotels wanting to be part of the program began growing by the hour, according to Michael Jacobson, CEO and president of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association.
Some of the hotels also volunteered as “alternative care sites,” meaning they could become an emergency hospital or a place for those quarantined to stay if needed, too. These efforts supported those in need and medical industry professionals and provided hotel employees with work during a travel downturn that otherwise empty guest rooms.
AHLA guided hotels on new cleaning protocols, liability issues, and other concerns that could arise during the shift from daily operations and regular guest routines to those of essential workers and others in need.
When a Hotel Becomes a Home
Hotels, some of which had closed temporarily when the pandemic began, began to step up in meaningful ways around the country. New York’s Four Seasons on East 57th Street opened 225 rooms on April 2 for medical personnel. Within three days, 100 rooms were filled.
“Under the guidance of Dr. Robert Quigley, we were able to transform the hotel and properly train all employees working at the property in a matter of days,” Rudy Tauscher, general manager of Four Seasons Hotel New York, told TripSavvy. “In accordance with these enhanced safety protocols, we created as low-risk of an environment as possible for both employees and guests.” (Dr. Robert Quigley is the senior vice president and medical director for International SOS, a health and security services firm.) “Many guests shared personal stories with our staff about their experience on the frontlines and the comfort they felt in having a safe haven close by to rest following their long shifts,” added Tauscher.
At the end of March, Chicago’s Sophy Hyde Park opened most of its rooms to University of Chicago Medical Center staff. In Portland, Maine, The Clarion Hotel set aside 50 rooms per night where healthcare workers could stay for free.
In Texas, the My Place Hotel in Lubbock made rooms available to medical personnel who were isolating from loved ones after putting themselves on the front lines. In Dallas, The Statler offered free lodging by setting aside two floors of rooms for essential workers.
The Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs, Florida, opened its doors to serve as a temporary shelter for the city's homeless population. A New Orleans homeless community of nearly 200 people was welcomed by two area hotels, a Hilton Garden Inn and Quality Inn, to keep them safe.
Beyond a Free Night, Some Hotels Get Creative
The Albany Hilton Garden Inn launched “Heroes Landing,” a place to welcome and care for area hospital workers. With an influx of patients and brutal work schedules, it offered doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals a haven to relax and grab a bite to eat. The hotel provided them a warm meal and a guest room to use for a few hours between shifts. They were able to offer rooms for several hours before cleaning them for the next use. This allowed one room to be used multiple times for different people for 24 hours.
The Ocean House Rhode Island and its culinary team handled the school lunch needs for local children who could not attend school by preparing and serving meals from its food truck. Many students rely on school lunch for a balanced meal, and the hotel stepped in to help fill the void.
Hotel Revival in downtown Baltimore gave away free produce to community members and partnered with area organizations to serve meals for those in need. It also made its kitchens available to area small food businesses without a brick-and-mortar location of their own to prepare food and make it available for pickup.
The manager of Patricia Grand Hotel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, gave his unused food to locals in need. Louisville’s Galt House Hotel opened up its food pantry for employees to get fresh fruit, vegetables, and household goods without having to go to the store themselves.
On a corporate level, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts worked with AHLA to pinpoint potential work opportunities for hospitality professionals who were out of a job. The pandemic led to significant workforce cutbacks, and the collaboration helped hotel staff find alternate work at area restaurants and retail businesses.
Through its new #EverydayHeroes initiative, Wyndham also supported essential frontline workers with free Gold status in the Wyndham Rewards program, which comes with bonus points and late checkout on eligible stays.
Best Western offered a similar elite status upgrade to essential workers bumping them up to Best Western Rewards Gold Elite status. Eligible members that work in the medical field, the hospitality and restaurant industry, or shipping and e-Commerce can take advantage of the boost.
In a variety of ways, AHLA and the hotel industry continue to demonstrate their commitment to hospitality. While 2020 may not have gone as planned, it’s reassuring to see hotels making substantial efforts for the greater good, even in troubled times.
Main Photo: Hispanolistic / Getty Images; Illustration: TripSavvy / Julie Bang